Monday, February 04, 2013

On Kissing in Public, Red Nail Polish, and Other Matters of Tzniut

I've been drawn, lately, to a bunch of articles and responses and other articles on matters of tzniut. I think I've been especially drawn to discussions of tzniut since I got married and started covering my hair because I had forgotten how difficult tzniut can be and how hard it is to be restricted in dress and behavior. There is so much I have become accustomed to doing in terms of tzniut that I don't notice it in the same way anymore. But as I experimented with shaitels, falls, hats, hats with falls, headbands with falls, bandanas,and scarves, I didn't look like myself and I missed my own hair. It was—and still is—hard every time I put something on top of my head and tuck up my hair. 

What's often missing in discussions of tzniut is how intensely personal these decisions are—no matter what the actual decision. Find me someone who observes tzniut in any form and you'll find a girl who's stood before a mirror in a dressing room pulling up a collar, tugging down a hem, trying to convince herself that she can make a dress work. You'll find a girl who stares longingly in the mirror in pants or a tank top or uncovered hair before putting on layers and layers of clothing to leave her house.

And knowing how personal these things are, how difficult it can be to wear a Kiki Riki under the dress that looks so awesome sleeveless and looks so stupid with a shirt underneath or to pull on a denim skirt when you know every single one of your classmates will be wearing jeans or to wrap that bandana around your head when you're having a good hair day (and good shaitel days? Those don't really happen), I am not prepared for any person to tell me how I should be practicing tzniut. 

I wince at the memory of being told by a woman I didn't know in a public place that I was being inappropriate by kissing my husband or being told by others that our hand-holding and hugging should be kept in the bedroom. When this happens, I want to shout, "I am wearing someone else's hair over my better hair. I am wearing a skirt with four safety pins that keep on popping open and scratching the back of my legs to close the slit that goes above my knee. I go to the beach wearing more clothes than the rest of the beach-goers combined. Isn't it enough for you?"    

Which is to say I work hard at being tzanua, but I have made decisions about what to do and what not to do. I wear red nail polish and open-toe shoes. I wear college sweatshirts that shout Columbia across my chest (to be fair, I'm a small person and Columbia is a long word, so what you often see across my chest is "Lumbi"). I show the front of my own hair when wearing scarves or hats or my fall. I kiss my husband in public. I have friends who have made very different decisions about all these things, and I don't think they're wrong or that I am right. 

That's not to say I don't think there are halachic standards. I do. And I follow them. But I recognize that there are many different interpretations and that just because I am doing what I think I need to be doing does not mean what I am doing is right or right for everyone. I fully recognize both the diversity of totally acceptable halachic opinions and the need to find a place that works personally for each individual.    If there's one thing every discussion of tzniut needs to have, it's more tolerance and understanding of others. Because, dude, this stuff is hard enough without having other people breathing down your back and telling you your decisions are wrong.


At 2/4/13, 9:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A) Tznius is more than just clothes, safety pins or nail polish. It is a mindset and way of life. That is where most of the "confusion" stems from.

B) Guys have it just as hard if not harder. Using myself as an example, as a chabad guy I on a daily basis wear an undershirt, woolen tzitis and a shirt. I will wear that during the summer months as well no matter how hot it gets. On shabbos I will be wearing a suit jacket (while it can be super 180) on top of that. On top of all that shorts are a no-no. Sum total: sticky shvitzy mess.

At 2/4/13, 10:12 PM, Blogger FrumGeek said...

I'd like to address the kissing in public. Sure, you can do it, but sometimes its simply not respectful. If you're in a frum neighborhood, be respectful of their minhagim. I can understand why it can be frusterating to, say, go to the back of a bus on one of those frum busses, but sitting in the front would be rude and disrespectful. You don't like sitting in the back? Don't use their busses. Imagine, if you will a guy who goes into a shul wearing a cross and eating a ham sandwich. Can he? Perhaps. But its disrespectful. Be the bigger person. I know a girl who isn't shomer, but in public, where there are frum poeple, she is. It's not because she's hiding it or anything like that, but its because she's respectful of those around her and doenst want to make them uncomfortable.

At 2/5/13, 6:41 AM, Blogger Princess Lea said...

Not all the behaviors you list are comparable.

I do not know of a halacha that is being violated by wearing red nail polish; it's not like "french manicures OK, OPI Thrill of Brazil not." Neither is open-toe shoes a problem (Jews were a desert people; I think they favored sandals.) Neither is wearing a lettered t-shirt. Some of your hair sticking out? No sweat, two tefachs is OK.

However, there is a halachic violation in PDA, the reasoning being that it can cause pain to someone else. Why? Mayhap because you are announcing that you possess love and affection, which not everyone has.

A factor of tznius is advertising/bragging. It's like a mother going around telling all the other mothers how gifted and talented her son is, insinuating their offspring are "lesser."

The Jewish world considers matters like PDA to be private, between two people, and by displaying it in public, it cheapens its value. We aren't saying keep it to the bedroom alone, but at least to a private space, devoid of onlookers.

Quite frankly, do you feel all warm and fuzzy when you see two people kissing in public? I get nauseous. PDA is so verboten in the observant community it is a MAJOR thing if someone smooches her hubbie on the street.

The love between two people is considered so sacred and special that it is incomprehensible why it would be put on display.

Everything else you list many observant Jews do themselves. But the kissing? That is asking too much. Hand holding is barely the limit.

At 2/5/13, 11:01 AM, Anonymous Z. said...

Sounds like some people haven't been getting enough PDA ... which is ironic in FrumGeek's case because why do you think people sit in the back of the bus ;-).

At 2/5/13, 11:14 AM, Blogger Eli7 said...

OK, so I have a few comments here:

Firstly, I'd like to clarify. My husband and I do not make out in shul. We were pecking at Trader Joe's, about 15 minutes away from the closest frum community when a frum lady we did not know came up to us and yelled at us, saying her kids did not have to see that. I agree there are places where excessive PDA is inappropriate—even places having nothing to do with Orthodox Judaism. But I don't think that after marriage we should keep our distance from one another in any place that is outside our bedroom. I also think that Orthodox children should see that married couples love each other and that love entails some physical affection. That shouldn't be a dirty secret.

Princess Lea, the point of my post was that matters of tzniut are deeply personal. There are many interpretations of halacha and one's choice is personal. I agree with you that there's nothing halachically wrong with my wearing red nail polish or showing the front of my hair, but there are plenty of people who would argue that those choices blatantly violate halacha. Have you ever read Oz V'Hadar Levusha? I disagree with you that PDA violates any halacha. Your assertion that it does is one interpretation but certainly not the only one.

I also disagree with your definition of the entire Orthodox Jewish world when what you mean is specific Ultra-Orthodox sheltered enclaves. I have been in many Orthodox communities where married couples show physical affection for one another and where that is very much the norm.

But at the end of the day, I take tzniut seriously and I have made personal decisions that work for me. Not everyone who takes tzniut seriously has made the same choices, but I try very hard to respect others' choices, knowing that these things are difficult, and I truly believe any discussion of tzniut needs more respect, not halachic posturing.

At 2/5/13, 12:37 PM, Blogger Princess Lea said...

I am not a member of an "ultra-Orthodox" enclave. If anything, mine is considered "modern." There are couples in my community that walk along, hand in hand, and that is considered acceptable by some, but some don't.

I did not think you and your husband were making out in public. I assumed kissing was merely a peck, nothing steamier than that.

I personally hate the term "tznius" (I even wrote a whole post expressing my distaste) since, like you, I agree it is personal, and also applies to private behaviors.

Red nails does not equate to PDA, and there is also a big difference between pecking in a supermarket and pecking in your kitchen with your kids at the dinner table.

I'm not exactly sure how a point that PDA could incite jealousy is halachic posturing (the two are even connected on wikihow).

Additionally, this woman (while her behavior was uncalled for) found the peck to be socially unacceptable. Now etiquette comes into the equation. Social interaction is based on the approval of your peers. Did this woman say her motivations were regarding "tznius"? She said she did not want her children to see that. I find it unlikely that she harasses every snuggly couple that she comes across; it must be rarer than you think.

In general, I am leery of PDA because I feel as though it is trying to prove something, even if it is parent to child. One has plenty of time in their own home to smooch (whether it be husband or offspring); that is the upbringing I was raised with, and so with my (married) siblings, who choose to not display their adoration in public beyond fond looks.

But as you say, it is a personal choice. But again, you should not be surprised if some are affronted. I have not yet been publicly attacked for wearing red nail polish, and I go to Borough Park regularly. But I think I would be if I gave a significant other an unnecessary peck in the freezer section.

At 2/5/13, 3:57 PM, Blogger FrumGeek said...

A friend showed this to me earlier this week, and I think it pertains to this conversation. Skip to 3:15!

At 2/6/13, 7:18 AM, Anonymous AJ said...

If you think it's okay for a married couple to kiss in public, it's hypocritical to complain about 2 men or 2 women kissing in public. I wouldn't want my (hypothetical) kids to see that.

At 2/7/13, 11:25 AM, Blogger Eli7 said...

Just to be clear: You don't really get to decide what your children see in Trader Joe's or in the mall or on the street.

At 2/8/13, 3:46 AM, Anonymous lex said...

I agree with you that tzniut is a very personal decision for many people. However, for many others, it is simply a matter of what their social/religious circle deems acceptable or necessary, rather than a personal choice. I think you are far more likely to offend those who see tzniut as something imposed from without rather than a personal choice, because you are going against their perception of The Rules.

Does it sometimes make me uncomfortable when married friends are physically affectionate in public? A little bit, yes. Is that unfair of me? Also maybe yes. That being said, I still would NEVER tell someone that what they're doing is wrong. What they choose to do is up to them, not to me. If someone doesn't want their children to ever see any kind of physical affection between men and women in public...well, they're going to have a hard time taking them to any public place frequented by anyone other than Orthodox Jews, because they cannot control everyone else's behavior.

Also, a PS for Princess Lea - just because no one has publicly reamed you out in Borough Park for wearing red nail polish doesn't mean you haven't offended anyone. It just means no one has thought it worth their while to tell you so.

At 2/14/13, 6:40 AM, Blogger Princess Lea said...

Lex: Have you been in BP lately? They ain't a shy bunch. Plenty of natives go the way of the red nail; it's not horrific anymore.


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